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Officials step in to help Killingworth mobile home residents fight raising rates

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong with his family on the podium at the Hartford Yard Goats Stadium after being re-elected on November 8, 2022
Ebong Udoma
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong submitted testimony to the state Housing Committee on Tuesday that residents at Beechwood are being treated unfairly.

Jackie Vece lives in Beechwood Community Mobile Home Park in Killingworth. Residents here don’t own the land their houses are on.

The land is owned by Sun Communities, a billion-dollar, publicly traded real estate investment trust that is headquartered in Michigan.

So, when sewage begins to back up onto her property and at least 10 of her neighbors in the over 55 community, the landlords can appear to be hard to reach — and without a plan to make necessary repairs.

“Until our group got involved and started making all of this public, Sun would be telling people that you know it was their responsibility,” Vece said. “People have put out their own money to get the septic problems fixed.”

Many Beechwood residents live on fixed incomes and pay a monthly rental fee to keep their mobile homes on the property. Unlike the name suggests, many of the homes are immobile due to their age or were never designed to be relocated.

Vece said Sun Communities has also been increasing their land rent every year since they purchased Beechwood in 2019 — which means abandoning their homes due to infrastructure problems is a costly and unlikely situation.

“The land does not belong to us and is not our responsibility,” she added.

The residents and the state attorney general’s office have urged lawmakers to pass a bill to cap the amount of rent increases for mobile home parks in the state at 2.5%, to ensure residents on fixed incomes can afford to stay in their homes.

Attorney General William Tong submitted testimony to the state Housing Committee on Tuesday that residents at Beechwood are being treated unfairly.

“The rents are only going up dramatically, but the services have gone down,” Tong later told WSHU. “And so, you’ve got people who don’t have a lot of money, they don’t have the ability to pay for repairs out of pocket when they depend on Beechwood and Sun Communities to keep for example the septic system and the sewage system operational, and we’re hearing that sewage is backing up in people’s homes and it's very unsafe and unsanitary.”

Tong said his department will use the full weight of the law to make Sun Communities comply with their legal obligations to repair their property. In a letter to Sun Communities, Tong also cites state statutes requiring mobile home park management to maintain common areas in a “clean and safe condition” and the maintenance of water and sewer lines in “good working order.”

He has also referred complaints to the state Department of Consumer Protection, which handles inspections, licensing, and investigates complaints from mobile home park residents.

“One disabled resident complained of a large beehive in front of her porch. The management company said they did not have money in their budget to remove it. The tenant paid herself to get it removed,” Tong said in his testimony. “Another tenant complained that her stairs lacked rails and were loose. She reported that maintenance agreed they were dangerous, but management has yet to fix them.”

Sun Communities did not respond to requests for comment. The management company owns several properties in Connecticut, including Southington, Westbrook, Storrs, Uncasville, Old Mystic, and Danbury.

Nationally, private investors like Sun have purchased mobile home communities, “replacing local ownership and management with out-of-town corporate executives who report to boards of directors and shareholders,” Tong said in his testimony.

He said mobile home communities are supposed to be more affordable housing choices, particularly for low-income seniors.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.